The Characters, Themes and Literary Elements in Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Fallen Angels

The characters, themes and literary devices used in Fallen Angels, a novel by Walter Dean Myers, make it the compelling, critically-acclaimed novel that it is.

The three major characters in Fallen Angels, Richie Perry, Harold “Peewee” Gates, and Lobel, all have distinct personalities and backgrounds. Perry, originating from the streets of Harlem is a perplexed, innocent child when he first enters the Vietnamese War. Perry has extreme potential, and even dreams of being a philosopher. “My plans, maybe just my dreams really, had been to go to college, and to write. . . . All the other guys in the neighborhood thought I was going to college. I wasn’t, and the army was the place I was going to get away from all the questions.” Though he chooses to ignore it and join the war, – as it is an easy escape from himself and his nagging future – his deep-seated curiosity compels him to answer more questions about himself and his morals. Perry is a very interesting character to portray in a war novel, as he offers immediate insight regarding the war, where individuals physical, emotional, and mental capabilities are tested. When he encounters these disturbing images, he tries to shut them out, which proves more and more ineffective the more he is exposed to them. Peewee and Perry share similar backgrounds. Perry comes from Harlem, and Peewee comes from Chicago. Peewee enters the war as a boy and matures and develops after testing himself and his morals. Peewee does not share the same ambition as Perry, claiming he has only three goals in life (drink wine from corked bottle, make love to a foreign woman, and smoke a cigar). Though Peewee copes with the war with his comedy and farce, he will occasionally show true emotion. This happens when he sees a child explode in front of his eyes. “The GI’s arms and legs flung apart from the impact of the blast. The damn kid had been mined, and had exploded in his arms”. Though Peewee appears light-hearted and easygoing, he reveals a caring, deeper side throughout the book. Because Lobel is a Jewish soldier and suspected homosexual who is in Perry’s squad, he is on the receiving end of much of the abuse from the more anti-semitic and homophobic members of the squad, and even his disapproving father. He seeks solace from the abuse in developing friendships with Perry and Peewee, two of the kinder soldiers in the squad. Lobel lives the war in his own private, glorious fantasy. While Peewee jokes about the war, he sincerely believes that he is acting a heroic role in a war movie. This is very evident in this quote:”‘You remember those cowboy movies when the bad guys ride into town? You know, the killers?’/`Yeah.’/’That’s us,’ Lobel said.” While some of the complex characters in Fallen Angels share similar backgrounds, they are all distinctly different.

The major themes in this novel, all centered on war, include loss of innocence, the portrayal of war versus it’s reality, and the ethics of war. Loss of innocence is strongly developed in this novel, as the majority of the soldiers are still very young and maintain their innocence, a youthful quality. This trait is perfectly described when, in chapter 4, Lieutenant Carroll calls them “angel warriors”. “`My father used to call all soldiers angel warriors,’ he said. `Because usually they get boys to fight wars. Most of you aren’t old enough to vote yet.’” Another event that marks the loss of innocence, which occurs in chapter 17, is the explosion of a young child mentioned earlier. A child, a symbol often used in literature to represent innocence and naivety – dies, and with it’s death, comes the death of what it represents. The relentless death and loss that is ever-present forces them to shed their “youthful skin”, and develop a callus around whatever part of them feels sensitivity towards others. Another theme explored in this book is the contrast between the portrayal of war and its reality. This theme is first shown, though on a much smaller scale, when the soldiers are forced to pay for their own dinners at the airport. Another example that reinforces this theme is that every leader of Perry’s squad, with the exception of Lt. Carroll, acts out of own self interest, rather than for the reasons of which America entered the war. Strongly troubled by the blurred line between myth and reality, Perry seeks to connect with and educate the only constant he knows, his family. He ends up unable to do so. The last major theme explored in this book is the ethics of war. Myers masterfully illustrates the human tendency toward seeking black and white, right and wrong, good and evil through Perry and his squad mates’ emotional journeys. Once Perry is engulfed in the war, and eventually kills a man, he questions whether he is inherently good (or whether anyone is good), just because he is American. This is the result of the brainwashing done by the media and government. After giving up on trying to find the line between good and bad, Perry resolves that his goal in Vietnam is to get out alive. The themes that Myers explores in this novel are only possible to convey as well as he did in a wartime setting.

Three major literary devices are used in Fallen Angels, including a variety of symbols and motifs. Perry’s letters home (which are almost metaphors), those which he often struggles in writing, reflect his ever-changing opinion of the war. In the opening chapters, he writes to Kenny buoyantly, excited about returning home soon with all of his souvenirs and good stories. As Perry is exposed to the horrors of war, he struggles more reporting the negativity to Kenny and his mother. Another literary device is the motif of race in war. During this time in America, the African-American civil rights movement was picking up speed, and many soldiers carried their prejudices into the war, where they had no bearing. In the book, soldiers lightly traded racial slurs, which often led to physical violence. As the soldiers bond together, their biases disappear. This is evident in Johnson’s quote: “‘I didn’t say nothing,’ Johnson said. ‘I don’t talk that shit. A man in Nam fighting by my side is a man fighting by my side. I don’t care what he doing in bed.’” The last literary device used in Fallen Angels is prayer. As the group encounters more and more terrific things, including the deaths of Jenkins and Lieutenant Carroll, they rely on prayer more and more. Perry often wishes he knew the Lord’s Prayer, and refers to religion in talking about Kenny and his mother. He seeks religious guidance from Brew, a very religious character who acts as the “priest” of the group, and asks him to borrow his Bible. Perry’s letters, race, and prayer are all literary devices used in this book to further develop it’s themes and critical ideas.

Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, contains the substance in characters, themes, and literary devices to make it a very well-written, bestselling book.

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